It is all but universally accepted that to improve a franchise in the NFL you have to improve the team's personnel. It is not my intention to diminish the need of coaching, scheme, health, player improvement and luck, but as the old saying goes, "You can't win the Kentucky Derby with a donkey."
There are two major opportunities to add key players to a roster. If you miss or decide not to participate in free agency, or if you draft poorly, then you have probably blown your opportunity to make significant improvements. If you decide not to invest in free agency, then you are forced to draft without error. No one can flawlessly draft, so eventually every team is going to have to participate in free agency.
Without success in these two personnel improvement opportunities, your franchise is doomed. Despite the results your team has had in free agency or the draft, there are still a few ways for it to improve before the season starts.
1. Trades: Without a doubt, the best opportunity to add a meaningful player at this point is through a trade. This late in the offseason, a team that needs a player is always going to be at the mercy of a team with a tradable player. Unless the team in need is willing to overpay, there probably is little incentive for the team with the tradable player to agree to terms. If the team with a tradable player holds off past minicamp, training camp, preseason games and sometimes even a couple of regular-season games, injury and need can often create a market for the tradable player. Trades are generally the exception rather than the rule because of issues matching values, needs and cap issues. Some of the trades I was involved with were the acquisition of Kevin Carter and Travis Henry, and the trading away of Steve McNair.
2. Remaining free agents: For a short time the unrestricted free agency market is still in effect. However, you are now dealing with players who have gone through the cycle time and time again and will only fill out a roster. Generally, the star players have already been signed.
3. Waiver wire and cap cuts:
" The NFL waiver wire is still in effect. With the exception of a player such as Keyshawn Johnson, the wire is largely composed of players who are routinely passed between teams, or college free agents who have failed to make their team in minicamp.
" Camp cuts are probably the best chance to fill out a roster with NFL-caliber players. Draft choices and roster additions will push waived or terminated veteran players into the market. These players may have value to your club as a stopgap player or a special teamer. Every once in awhile you will come across a player with long-term value.
The most notable player who we acquired in this manner was probably Frank Wycheck.
4. The June 1 rule: The June 1 rule allows teams to
unload expensive veterans and spread the salary-cap charge over one additional year. June 1 has always been a highly anticipated date among NFL teams and fans, but the reality is few true impact players enter the market. The new collective bargaining agreement has de-emphasized June 1 even more. Now each team is allowed to designate a limited number of possible June cuts. That, of course, means the opportunity to find quality players after June 1 has been almost eliminated.
5. NFL Europe: At the completion of the NFL Europe season, any unallocated player is a free agent and eligible to be signed by any NFL team. Almost all of the players with any chance are allocated to a team. The probability of finding a player in Europe who will change your season is almost impossible.
As you can see, if you don't have a great game plan with free agency and the draft, the opportunity to improve your team is either limited or very expensive. Those teams that believe they will find a gem on the waiver wire after June 1 will probably be disappointed. Some teams will rely on young players improving. This is the backbone of coaching and there is merit if you can keep your roster static. In today's NFL, though, the chance of keeping your roster intact from year to year is nearly impossible.
Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese contributes frequently to ESPN.com.